National Geographic Channel presents a long in the making documentary that profiles Angola prison and its inmates.
This sequel to the Oscar-nominated Sundance Award winner “The Farm,” NGC’S “A Decade Behind Bars: Return To The Farm” is a first-hand recounting of life inside Angola, a notorious American prison.
“A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm” premieres tonight, Tuesday, June 16, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
In 1997, filmmaker Jonathan Stack and colleagues Liz Garbus and Wilbert Rideau released “The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison,” an acclaimed film The New York Times called “a discreetly searing documentary,” which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature and the top honor, the Grand Jury Prize, at the Sundance Film Festival.
Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — commonly known as The Farm — is presented from the perspectives of six “lifer” inmates.
For the last 10 years, filmmaker Jonathan Stack has continued to chronicle life and the surprising changes inside Angola, which is now an increasingly self-sustaining agricultural community that boasts five new churches and its own inmate-run TV and radio station.
The two-hour special reveals personal revelations from those incarcerated and recently freed, their family members, and, in one case, the alleged victims.
Of the six inmates portrayed in the first film, only four are still living (one died of lung cancer; the other was executed). The intimate and candid words and images of the remaining four reflect the struggle that these convicted criminals face behind bars and on the streets.
“A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm” explores these questions about the four violent criminals who are featured: George Crawford, Vincent Simmons, Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Eugene Tanniehill.
The film captures the emotions of the inmates and those around them: Simmons’ tears after being forgiven by his alleged victims who accuse him of rape; Ashanti’s joy at his release after serving 27 years for armed robbery; Crawford’s shame when his mother sees him in shackles; and Tanniehill’s heartfelt religious rebirth in the midst of incarceration.
From Nat Geo:
Sprawled over 18,000 acres, The Farm is on the site of a former slave plantation. Over the past decade, Warden Burl Cain has enacted many changes at this notorious prison, where more than one out of every two inmates is a murderer and where 95 percent of the population will live out the rest of their lives.
The Farm is now a vibrant, almost self-sustaining agricultural community raising millions of pounds of vegetables, hundreds of workhorses, and thousands of cattle — even though the grass-fed beef they raise is considered too much of a luxury for the prisoners, and is sold in the marketplace.
Warden Cain has also infused a very strong religious component, with five new churches on the grounds and an accredited Bible college. He believes long hours of daily work and rigorous faith-based teachings can profoundly transform his inmates. Acts of violence have dropped 74 percent on Warden Cain’s watch.
“Moral rehabilitation is the only true rehabilitation,” says Cain, who has spoken at parole hearings in support of some of the prisoners he deems worthy of release. “We can teach them skills and a trade, to read, write, all that, but we just made a smarter criminal unless we have a moral component with it.”
Cain has deployed media to show how far reform has come. For years, the prison has had a radio station (KLSP) and a magazine (The Angolite), and in 2006, the warden launched LSPTv, a prisoner-run closed-circuit television station.
Sean Vaughn, an inmate at Angola since 1998, is now the technical director of the TV station. He wants this to be a full-fledged station that broadcasts to the outside to reflect the real people who live in Angola. He has seen what has happened to George Crawford, Vincent Simmons, Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Tanniehill, who were featured in the first film about The Farm.
Though not all of them got out, they received international attention and, in some cases, legal assistance.
In A Decade Behind Bars: Return to the Farm, we see George Crawford, who entered Angola in 1997 at the age of 22 and is serving a life sentence for murder. After seeing the first film, a prestigious law firm took on Crawford’s case pro bono, but repeated appeals have been denied. Vincent Simmons is serving 100 years for the aggravated rape of twin teenage sisters.
In the years after “The Farm” aired, a worldwide following grew in support of Simmons’ case because evidence that might have supported his case was never presented at his trial.
His alleged victims forgive him, moving Simmons to tears — but he maintains his innocence even though an admission of guilt could lead to his early release.
Other inmates, like Ashanti Witherspoon and Bishop Eugene Tanniehill, who spent 27 and 50 years in prison respectively, seem to have found something that led to transformation and, ultimately, their release. In 1972, Witherspoon shot police officers during a robbery and was sentenced to 75 years at The Farm.
Two years after “The Farm” was released, he won an early termination of his sentence. He now works as a community organizer and motivational speaker for at-risk youth.
Tanniehill beat a man to death in 1956 and spent half a century behind bars. At 74 years old, he is now living happily in New York City and was married in January 2009.
Warden Burl Cain Cain has served as warden of Angola since January 1995. During his tenure, the prison has seen a dramatic drop in inmate-on-inmate violence, the formation of the first closed-circuit inmate-run TV station, and an expansion of the internal Bible college. He is the longest standing warden in the history of Angola. “I felt compelled to try to make this a normal, decent place to live and do your time. The prison is really like the city — your bed in the dorm is your house, and three beds down is three doors down and go speak to your neighbor and build community and that’s what we did.”
“I think in America we should live as free people, we should live free of fear and… we need to do a better job of inmate victim reconciliation.” Known for his innovative approaches to prison programming and management, his correctional philosophy is based on “moral rehabilitation” by promoting the church and other methods of religious and moral guidance for the inmates.
“Moral rehabilitation is the only true rehabilitation. We can teach them the skills and trade, read, write and all that, but we just made a smarter criminal unless we have a moral component with it. And that comes form the heart and so. We don’t care what we find in morality we can — an atheist can be moral. And we get them in here, and we can start working on them to be more moral person.”
From Nat Geo:
Profile of Angola Prison
* The total inmate population of Louisiana State Penitentiary is 5,161 as of March 2009.
* There are 3,726 inmates (72 percent) currently serving life sentences at Louisiana State Penitentiary.
* Eighty one of Angola Prison’s 5,161 inmates are currently on death row.
* Approximately 95 percent of the inmates currently incarcerated in Angola will never leave prison.
* Louisiana Sate Penitentiary is located on 18,000 acres and consists of the Main Prisons, which houses approximately 2,500 inmates, and six out camps (Camps C, D, F, J, RC, and Death Row), which house about 2,500 inmates.
* Dormitory-style units house general population inmates. Single cells are often used to house inmates in administrative segregation, disciplinary detention/extended lockdown, protective custody, and those assigned to Death Row.
* Seventy six percent of the Angola inmate population is black (3,923 inmates), 24 percent is white (1,230 inmates). The remaining 11 inmates are Indian, Hawaiian, Asian, or Latino.
* At 18,000 acres, the prison’s grounds are so vast that the island of Manhattan would fit inside its gates.
* Surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River, the prison regularly faces the threat of flooding. Last April, due to rising waters, LSP staff began 24-hour patrols of the Angola Levee System to ensure that the prison perimeter remained secure. In 1997, the record high waters breached the outer levee ring surrounding the prison, flooding 2,000 acres and bringing the river right to edge of the main prison grounds.
* The inmate currently serving the longest incarceration at Angola is Sammie Robinson. He has been in Angola for 55 years.
Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.